Having a Chinese friend does not an Asian expert make. Here is a peek into what it’s really like to be an Asian raised overseas. At least from the perspective of fashion. Fashion Branding and Eco Storyteller Bunny Yan is on the Temper tongue in cheek faux pas prowl.
Fashion is all about the look, the feel and the illu-sion. Being Chinese American, one thing that comes up from time to time is the question of “Do I look too Asian in this outfit?”. Why use the term “Asian” instead of “Chinese”? Because oversea yellow folk often get grouped together. Isn’t that right, fellow ninjas? This is speaking from personal experience because as you can see in the featured image, I, Bunny Yan, too am of the Orient race.
After catching up with some fellow yellows, here are few things that might make a Chinese American look newly immigrated or “too Asian” instead of being trendy, showing culture appreciation or… Like they’re just getting dressed for Wednesday.
Time to rustle up a diverse group of interviewees consisting of first generation, second generation and inter-rationally mixed Chinese Americans. Ready, set, go faux!
Nerdy fashion faux pas
Glasses are said to make people look smarter or be the perfect disguise if you are Superman. When comes to wearing spectacles, some of us give off the human calculator look. It really comes down to the style of the glasses — those rectangle ones with black frames and thick lenses. “No Sara, I cannot figure out splitting the bill five ways in my head just because I’m wearing these glasses. Ok, fine… It’s US $22.60 per person.” A little real life perspective for ya right there.
So named because it looks like someone placed a bowl on the head and trimmed off all the hair at the same length. Something about that haircut just screams IT department technician who codes on the weekend for fun. Variations of that haircut can be very trendy, but long bangs will be very hard to maintain. You can get a haircut every 2 weeks or get used to blowing your hair out of your face every 5 minutes.
For some, getting dressed in the morning is fun. Trying on different combos, different colors and accessorize. For others, it’s a panic attack. Solution? White Shirt/ Black Pants, White Shirt/ Black Pants, Tan Shirt/ Black Pants, you get the idea. For a race that’s stereotyped to be conforming and rule following, this will be a very poor argument example. Although, wearing uniform-esque attires does make one look like they can follow orders and get sh*t done. So it might be a good thing?
Culture-Based Faux Pas
Example: Sporting the “I Heart NY” Tee. This one is not yellow specific. When you live somewhere long enough, you earn the rights to b*tch about it. So this kind of public display of affection for your city just means you are new — given the resentment hasn’t set in yet. Unless you want to do it ironically, then either get one from the popular brands who have forged a twist to the outworn concept or DIY it — which reflects NYC spirit that spells out “Don’t like it? Change it.”
The ones you can get from the corner store with the strap cutting between your big toe and the second one: Thongs. It’s a very common thing to see on the streets of, say, Hong Kong. In the States, it’s not a very popular footwear to be worn outside, more limited to the beaches or California. Generally, you will be getting some looks if you wear them to restaurants or bars, but hey, if that’s what you want, then who are we to judge.
Counterfeit handbag catalog
Not sure if this is a Chinatown specific thing or a New York Chinatown thing, but whenever you are in the area, there will be a bunch of aunties and uncles trying to show you the wonderful collection of high-end luxury fakes they carry. If you are showing that around, don’t blame anyone who thinks you are a FOB (fresh off the boat). It’s not the fact that you are selling fake bags, it’s because everything is digital now. Keep up.
Yellow-Specific Faux Pas
The color yellow
Known as the “Yellow” race, quite a few of us were taught from a tender age that wearing yellow clothing will not flatter the complexion in any way. The color yellow will make our skin look dark and dull, even resembling someone with liver problems. (Now, having a liver problem could turn your skin tone yellow, it’s called jaundice.) All grown up, you realize that we all have different skin tones and hotdog mustard is not the only shade of yellow.
Due to the popularity of the Street Fighter game, Chun Li (春丽) since 1991 has become the go-to reference for people when they see a girl wearing a Mandarin collared dress. Let’s get something straight.
Qipao (旗袍 in 中文) or Hanfu (汉服 in 中文) is Chinese; the kimono is from Japan. And hanbok is Korean. They are all very different, with countless variations depending on the era. The rich cultural history behind them is just fascinating.
Most traditional attires are for special occasions, the versions you see in fashion are modern takes on these traditional elements and do not really carry more meaning behind the cloth other than looking awesome.
Note: This is not to culture shame anyone, a lot of us will not be able to tell the difference between them either.
Whilst we are on the subject of representative attires, a last tidbit of trending fashion topics. Here are three of the most popular and stereotypical modern Asian trends still at play anno 2019:
- Brightly colored, funky clothing, looking like a walking doll — associated with Tokyo’s Harajuku look;
- Oversized sweaters and Tees, pastel colors and the “no makeup makeup” look — associated with the South Korean fashion game;
- Chinese… Well, none of us here could come up with a unanimous answer to this one. Question remains…
What do you think?
Thing is… We are all trying to fit in, and this especially applies to the second+ generation and in-betweeners of Chinese Americans. They feel like they have to strike the balance between their Asian and foreign sides; the struggle is real.
Thing is… No one can tell you what you can and cannot embrace or how much is too Asian or not enough.
Thing is… The key is to ignore the negativity and accept or even able to laugh at our cultural difference. Being confident in your own skin is the best thing to wear while Asian.
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
Featured image: Courtesy of Bunny Yan, Left Side Of Fashion, 2019. All rights reserved
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- Dressing While Yellow: Fashion Faux Pas For Chinese Americans - April 19, 2019